Nicky Morgan: Is that really all the evidence you’ve got?

Henry Stewart's picture

On Question Time on Thursday Nicky Morgan sought to justify the forced conversion of schools to becoming academies with the claim that “academisation does raise standards”. She made two specific claims:

Claim 1: “There are 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.”

It is true that there are over 1 million extra pupils in good or outstanding schools. My calculation put the figure at 1.27 million in September. However this has little to do with the academy programme.

Of that 1.27 million, 997,000 were in primary schools where few schools are academies. Indeed the number of pupils that were in sponsored academies that were Good or Outstanding were just 67,000. So of the million extra pupils in Good or Outstanding primaries just 7%, one in fourteen, were due to academies. (Those in converter academies would have already been Good or Outstanding as that was the requirement for conversion.)

The 2014 Ofsted annual report pointed out that in the secondary sector (where most schools are academies) the same proportion were in Good or Outstanding schools as the previous year. There had been no increase. It also noted that over the previous two years, as the academy process had gone through, the number of children in “inadequate” secondaries had increased by 70% (from 100,000 to 170,000).

It was in the primary sector (where few schools are academies), that “190,000 more pupils are attending good or outstanding primary schools than last year.” (Ofsted annual report 2014 p8) 

Claim 2: “Results in primary sponsored academies are improving faster than those in maintained schools. We see that results in converter academies then proportion of GCSEs being passed is higher than in local authority schools.”

This sounds impressive. But dissect it and you will see the knowing deceit at the heart of the governments’ claims. By switching the different comparisons made, it could equally be said that maintained schools have better GCSE results than sponsored academies and increase their results at a faster rate than sponsored academies.

Of course converter academies have stronger absolute GCSE results. Only Good or Outstanding schools were allowed to become converter academies and they were Good or Outstanding because they had better results.

And similarly, of course sponsored academies increased their results faster than maintained schools overall. Look at the chart below. This groups primary schools by their previous year 2014 results. The group on the left, those schools that started with low 2014 results increased these results at a much faster rate than those with better initial results. Indeed those with the highest previous year results actually saw their results, on average, fall.

This has been the case every year, for primary and secondary, since the DfE started publishing detailed school data in 2011. Schools with low previous results see much bigger increases. Any group with a lot of schools with low previous results, such as sponsored academies, will be likely to increase their results at a faster rate.

The questions is whether a school will perform better if it stays a local authority maintained schools or becomes an academy. To answer that schools must be compared to similar schools, those with similar results in the previous year. Look again at the graph. Each of these five comparisons compares similar primary schools. In each case it is the non-academy whose results improve at a faster rate. 

The government knows it is being deceitful

The DfE has a strong statistical capability. It is fully aware of these facts. Indeed back in 2013 it produced a report which compared sponsored academies and maintained schools, claiming  that sponsored academies came out better (though it accepted in the High Court in 2014 that the difference was "marginal"). At that time schools were allowed to include "GCSE equivalents", which sponsored academies made extensive use of.

It is since the removal of GCSE equivalents in 2014 that it has become clear that maintained secondaries improve their results faster than sponsored academies. The DfE has not published any comparison of sponsored academies with similar non-academies since that change.

At the committee stage of the Education Bill in July 2014 the following discussion took place (summarised):

Nick Gibb: "Sponsored academies grades rose, over 4 years, by 6.4% pts compared with 1% for maintained schools. "

Kevin Brennan: "Is he comparing that improvement with figures for schools in similar circumstances?"

Nick Gibb: "Sponsored academies have improved their grades by about 6.4% compared with all LA schools."

Nick Gibb is an intelligent minister. He knew what question he was being asked and was unable to produce any comparison with similar schools, falling back instead on the comparison with all schools. 

Government education ministers are fully aware that the valid comparison is between schools with similar results. Does a school on 35%, or 40% or 45%, improve its results faster if it stays as a maintained school or if it becomes a sponsored academy?  That is the key question. The fact it might improve faster than a school already on 80% is irrelevant.

What Nicky Morgan showed on Newsnight, by using this deceit, was that she has no actual evidence to justify the claim that forcing schools to become academies will improve results. Instead there is the real danger that the primary sector will see the same increase in the number of children in "inadequate" that Ofsted found to have happened in the secondary sector.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/03/2016 - 08:24

FullFact checked Morgan's Question Time statement 'Academisation does absolutely raise standards...'

But FullFact didn't agree:

'It’s far from certain that becoming an academy raises standards. Theevidence is mixed, and in some cases suggests there’s little difference at all. Some say it’s too early to tell.'

FullFact also dismissed the data about results at primary sponsored academies rising faster than other schools:

'...we can’t conclude much from that: the sponsor-led primary schools in the study performed worse to start with, so they had more room to improve.'

Morgan's misuse of statistics would be risible if it wasn't for the fact that they're being used to justify wholesale academy conversion of England's schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/03/2016 - 08:32

Morgan's repetition of misleading data appears in her foreword to the Education White Paper which I discuss here.

It's not the first time dodgy data has been used to underpin education reform.   It was founded on the claim that the UK had plummeted down international league tables.  But we now know that was based on data the OECD had judged to be flawed and warned it could not be used for comparison.  Unfortunately it took nearly two years before the UK Statistics Watchdog censured the DfE's use of this data.  

Frederik Pedersen's picture
Sun, 20/03/2016 - 10:28

'On Question Time on Thursday Nicky Morgan sought to justified the forced conversion of schools to becoming academies with the claim that.....'
Do make sure that the verb following the auxiliary verb is in the infinitive.

Tatiana's picture
Sun, 20/03/2016 - 17:41

There has been a significant rise in the total number of primary school children over the last five years due to population growth that led to expanding existing schools. Since it's only good or outstanding schools that were allowed to expand, the increase in the number of pupils in good and outstanding schools is partly due to the expansion of schools.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 20/03/2016 - 19:52

Tatiana, that is true and well spotted. In my original piece on the extra 1.3 or 1.4 million, I estimated that 190,000 of the 1 million extra pupils in Good or Outsanding primaries were due to the expanding school population. See here.

emmabishton's picture
Mon, 21/03/2016 - 09:04

to misquote Daniel Moynihan - Nicky Morgan is entitled to her own opinion, but not her own facts..

Robert Cassen's picture
Tue, 22/03/2016 - 09:35

I agree with what everyone is saying. I co-authored a book last year on English education; on academies and several other issues the government just ignores the evidence. It's called Making a Difference in Education: What the evidence says; my co-authors are Sandra McNally and Anna Vignoles.

More power to you.

Lori Beckett's picture
Wed, 23/03/2016 - 11:07

It is good to join your online conversation following the release of the 2016 White Paper on 17 March to offer some critical commentary in the spirit of encouraging the professional voice and generating public debate, especially when it comes to teacher education – a preferred term over and above teacher training, which suggests drill and which belies the complexities of teaching.

Perhaps I should introduce myself. I came from Australia to England ten years ago to take up a post as Professor of Teacher Education and to set up school-university partnerships in networks of disadvantaged schools, though we settled on the term urban schools. This is more in keeping with the international research literature and creates some distance from the policy rhetoric of ‘failing’, ‘underperforming’ and ‘coasting’ schools, which casts shadows over teachers’ work.

To cut a very long story short, on arrival I was shocked to find ‘everything nailed to the ground’ in England’s highly regulated system and some systemic aversion to acknowledge material poverty and its effects. Through the determined efforts of a small team of teachers and academic partners we came together to build our collective intelligence and practitioner research evidence, and we published. The story is in three places: in a twin volume about teachers and teacher education, one sub-titled ‘raising the professional voice’ and the other ‘threats to professional practice’ for Routledge; and in a special collection of journal articles that showcases the teachers’ voice in Urban Review, 2014, 46, 5.

This is all very worthwhile reading, though I make the point: who reads this professional literature and what comes of it? I have certainly witnessed intense policy- and time pressures that preclude such professional activity among teachers and academic partners working in urban schools, which is to acknowledge their social and political realities (Beckett, 2016 p.135).

This brings me to the 2016 White Paper, which does not auger well for England, and which is touted as a warning to other systems: ‘we should see the English system as a warning, not as a system from which to learn’ (Lingard, 2009). That was six years ago, so imagine the international response to the audacious claims about the proposals for a new accreditation system, changes to teacher qualifications, plans to better develop and train the next generation of school leaders, which all sits alongside a blueprint for a system of full academisation. This is more and more political rhetoric.

To counter this, the so-called school-led system in England needs more and more critical commentary and a LOUD public debate marked by the research-informed professional voice to shed light on the apprenticeship model of practice (that actually went out with Balfour’s 1902 Education Act only to be re-visited by Gove’s 2011 Education Act followed by Nicky Morgan’s legislation). From what I have seen over the last decade, after years of recycling ‘what works’ through experience, which is copied and duplicated again and again in decontextualized ways, there is less capacity among teacher education staff in either schools or universities to think strategically about urban school action plans. I think England will live to regret these vernacular reforms, but be sure to see what others think. Check the BERA blogs too: and the one day ESRC funded-conference on ‘Disadvantage and Education: Rethinking School and Community relationships’ at 11am-5pm on Thursday 28 April in Nunn Hall, UCL IoE, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H0AL  (email Cheers, Lori     




Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.